Our inclusive performance group, The Remix, have booked tickets to see Happy Every After at Lighthouse, Poole's Centre for the Arts. The Remix Project Manager, Jude Allen, met with colleagues from Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council's Short Breaks Team, young people from the SENsational Youth club, Sara St. George (Head of Sales & Marketing/Deputy CEO at Lighthouse) and writer, director and star of Happy Ever After, Chris Jarvis, to talk about the relaxed performance and how it could improve the experience for children and young people who have different sensory needs.
We caught up with Chris and Jude afterwards.
Chris explains what audiences can expect from the show:
Firstly thank you to everyone at The Remix for booking to see our show! We look forward to seeing you and hope you enjoy our show. There are several characters from popular stories and pantomimes appearing played by fantastic actors. The story starts with Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother asking Buttons (Cinderella’s best friend) to check every pantomime character has had a ‘happy ever after.’ He meets many panto friends including Jack (from Jack and the Beanstalk), Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, the Genie from ‘Aladdin’ and Tommy the cat from ‘Dick Whittington’. Most of the characters are living happily ever after apart from Cinderella who is having terrible trouble getting to her next ball… the Christmas Ball at Hardup Hall. Buttons and the Fairy try everything in their power to get her there… a bus, a boat, a train, a taxi… you’ll have to wait and see if they’re successful! Along the way there is plenty of comedy from Tommy and Ed Petrie from CBBC, and some amazing songs sung by Lauren Azania and Naomi Wilkinson from CBBC.
What does a relaxed performance mean?
Chris: In recent years technology has made pantomime performances more spectacular and bolder in so many ways. The lighting, sound and illusions are all incredible – unthinkable just a few years ago! But we’re acutely aware that some people find all this overwhelming; so there is a need for relaxed performances.
Jude: The storyline will be the same, but the effects and atmosphere in the theatre will be a little different. The unwritten rules we all abide by (like sitting in the dark and being completely silent!) when we go to see a show will be relaxed and instead families will be able to relax knowing that their children won’t be frowned upon if they shout out at the wrong time or decide they no longer wish to sit still. Lighthouse has also developed their COVID-safe practises which means that only one third of the auditorium will be full so the young people will have plenty of space around them.
The advice we gave included the use of pyrotechnics without the loud noises, how The Remix love a bit of actor/audience banter and how we’d love the chance to get up and have a boogie as part of the show. We also discussed with Sara the layout of the venue, what we could expect when we arrived and how the house lights and sound levels could be adapted in order to allow everyone to feel relaxed and enjoy the show. Lighthouse will also be producing a 'What to Expect' guide with photographs of the visitor journey from the entrance to the auditorium. This is particularly important for anyone with autism, knowing what to expect is key to a successful day out. They will also be providing a chill out space for anyone who needs a break from the performance.
Why is it important to provide relaxed performances?
Chris: Pantomimes are referred to as ‘family shows’ and for that to be true we need to reach out and make them as inclusive as possible. We have songs and comedy that hopefully appeals to all age groups and tell stories and jokes that can be enjoyed and understood by everyone too. It really is our intention to ensure there’s something for everyone! That has been true of most pantomimes for decades.
Jude: Enabling and facilitating access to the arts for all children and young people is so important. The children and young people from The Remix not only love performing but also enjoy going to see others perform. Where else would they get their ideas from? Some families with a child who is disabled will avoid going to the theatre as they are worried about how they will be regarded if their child needs to move around or makes a loud noise. Relaxed performances alleviate these fears and encourage new audiences to attend. It also improves the visitor experience for the person with sensory needs or someone with autism, enabling them to enjoy going to the theatre more often. Happy Ever After is a family event and a relaxed performance fits perfectly with the principles of the show but how can we all make other productions more welcoming and accessible to people who are disabled? Could relaxed performances as part of a show run become the norm?
Thank you to Jude and Chris for their time.